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The psychopathic personality and human evolution

Dr. Robert Hare, who did seminal work in identifying psychopaths, refers to them as “intraspecies predators.” This prompted questions from a Lovefraud reader who asked,

  • If psychopaths are indeed natural predators (by implication, their design is part of nature’s plan to maintain some balance) then would we ever be able to weed them out of society?
  • Do they have a purpose in the natural order of things?

In this article, I’m going to address the second question. Then, next week, I’ll suggest an answer to the first question.

I don’t know about a purpose, but there are researchers who believe psychopaths are around us today because they survived the natural selection process of human evolution.

These researchers call psychopathy “a nonpathological, reproductively viable, alternate life history strategy.” This theory is outlined in Coercive and Precocious Sexuality as a Fundamental Aspect of Psychopathy, a paper published in 2007 by Grant T. Harris, PhD; Marnie E. Rice, PhD; N. Zoe Hilton, PhD; Martin L. Lalumiere, PhD; and Vernon L. Quinsey, PhD.

Evolution

Let’s talk about the evolution idea first. The authors write that our distant ancestors probably formed stable groups, characterized by cooperation and adherence to rules, which enabled early mankind to survive and flourish. However, some humans survived through cheating and exploiting others—the alternative life strategy.

Grant et. al. write that from childhood, psychopathic personalities are fundamentally different from others, but the differences are not the result of a medical failure or injury. They point out that pregnancy difficulties can be related to schizophrenia and mental retardation, but not psychopathy. “While many adverse medical conditions and injuries lead to antisocial and violent behavior, our selectionist hypothesis suggests that they do not cause psychopathy,” they write.

The early psychopaths—cheaters then as now—put a lot of energy into acquiring sexual partners, and were willing to use deception and coercion to do it. As a result, they produced a lot of offspring. Even if early psychopaths died young because then, as now, they probably engaged in high-risk behavior, their liberal procreation was enough to get the hereditary train rolling.

Sex and criminal behavior

Psychopaths first have sex at a young age, have many partners, and are uncommitted in sexual relationships. Studies show that people who have this approach to sex also are more likely to engage in criminal and violent behavior.

Some people, called life course persistent offenders, Grant et. al. write, “begin aggressive and antisocial conduct at very young ages and persist at rates higher than any other offenders throughout the lifespan.”

People tend to think that their problem is poor social learning, that individuals who break laws against crime and violence also break social norms regarding sex. But research has also shown that delinquency and antisocial behavior are associated with early onset of puberty and sexual activity. Young people don’t learn, or decide, when to mature sexually. So why is there a connection between early onset of puberty and crime?

The study

Grant et. al. believe that “coercive and precocious sexuality” is not a result of the psychopathic personality, but a key to defining it. For the study described in the paper, the researchers predicted “early onset, high frequency and coercive sexuality would be a key, unique and diagnostic feature of psychopathy.”

The researchers studied the case histories of 512 male sex offenders. (Sex offenders were selected because their files generally contain detailed information about their sexual history.) They established the scores of the offenders on the Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R). They also looked at the sexual histories of the offenders prior to age 15. A statistical analysis revealed correlations between early and frequent sexual behavior and sexual coercion with general antisocial behavior and elevated PCL-R scores.

“We propose that interpersonal sexual and nonsexual aggression are not best conceived of as the consequence of psychopathic personality traits, but as fundamental aspects of the condition itself,” the authors wrote.

Genetic history

The researchers’ expected that coercive and precocious sexuality were indicators of psychopathy because of their original hypothesis—psychopathy is an alternative life strategy.

“From a theoretical perspective, the present results lend some support to a selectionist hypothesis that psychopathy exists because it has been a heritable and reproductively viable condition during human evolution.”

Psychopaths, in other words, are not physically defective or medically ill. These researchers believe that they are just different, and, because they engaged in a lot of sex, were able to pass on their genes through the millennia.

Read the complete study:

Coercive and Precocious Sexuality as a Fundamental Aspect of Psychopathy

They are what they are

It’s shocking to think that there may be nothing medically wrong with these “intraspecies predators.” But in a way, the idea that psychopaths are pursuing an “alternate life history strategy” dovetails with what we often say here on Lovefraud. Psychopaths are what they are. They are cheaters and exploiters. They take advantage of others because that’s what they do.

Did nature intend this? I don’t know, but they survived.

While researching this story, I came across another paper with an interesting perspective on what to do about it, which I’ll discuss next week.



215 Comments on "The psychopathic personality and human evolution"

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  1. autisticsouls says:

    this is an interesting point, because not only is it rare for nerdy, geeky, or aspie men to gain the interest in most normal women. Most i know about are uncomfortable about it if it ever does happen or is disscussed, it’s like “oh god why?”.

    also we aren’t as interested in most things women strive to do to get themselves interesting. i’m allergic to a lot of things they scent themselves with and like some distance between us. also things like high heeled shoes is something i would always wonder. “But why?…” why would they put their feet into those things. don’t they realize how mishapen feet can get being in those sort of shoes?

    There is also the huge percentage of asexuals in the autistic population, which one has to consider makes sense since rationally, sex is rather unhygienic and obscene usually…

    i think women need to feel physically wanted. and they will always get that from a sociopath. i truly think if i were single and i told a women i was dating that i would need at least six months to move in that direction that would be the day i would never see her again.

    i think ‘normal’ women need this sort of ‘attention’ as much as sociopaths do. i only dated one other woman before my wife and i have this sensory thing going, so touching was rather a big no no in that time with me and others on the spectrum. and it is responded with a: “what’s wrong? don’t you like me?” thing which never made sense since when does the two really have to do with one another?

    generally in all the years i’ve spent in autistic and asperger forums i’ve never met an autistic or Aspie obsessed with sex. i guess somewhere they must exist like possibly somewhere there must be the possibility of an asexual sociopath, although i’ve never heard of one or read about one.

    Mike

  2. autisticsouls says:

    this is very interesting article came out just this january 19, 2010….

    Human Ancestors Were an Endangered Species

    http://sciencenow.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/2010/119/2

    “…..By examining the mutations in DNA near Alu insertions in two completely sequenced modern human genomes, they could calculate how much genetic diversity existed in our ancestors. They used the number of those genetic differences between the two genomes to calculate how large the population was at that time.

    As they report online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers found that the ancient human effective population size 1.2 million years ago, the number who could breed–was about 18,500, and couldn’t have been larger than 26,000. This means that even before the emergence of Homo sapiens in Africa, our ancestral population of Homo erectus was small even at a time that the species was spreading around the world. This implies an “unusually small population size for a species spread across the entire Old World,” the authors write.

    Population geneticists, including Montgomery Slatkin of the University of California, Berkeley, say that the theoretical analysis in the new method “seems correct.” The findings also “wonderfully illustrate how chance events, (such as the random insertion of Alus), have contributed to patterns of human genetic variation,” says population geneticist John Wakeley of Harvard University….”

  3. autisticsouls says:

    in the comments i was bugged by the article too and was wondering about those ‘dead enders’ species of humans that died out not to have any descendents here today. got a bit to romanticizing about these lost dead breeds of humans.. i feel a short story coming on…

    i thought Justin Schneiderman response squared what bugged me about the article as well as the comment that the lost humans were insignificant… it was so cold… I definitely feel a short story coming on. i’ll be dreaming tonight about lost and dead breeds of humans. how tragic. who were they? how were they different? why didn’t they survive? what could they have taught us and what did we maybe lose in losing them?

    Justin wrote in ScienceNow comments:

    “….I disagree. The 2nd sentence of the report reads:
    “But 1.2 million years ago, only 18,500 early humans were breeding on the planet–evidence that there was a real risk of extinction for our early ancestors, according to a new study.”

    Just because there were only 18,500 of our direct ancestors at any moment in the past doesn’t mean there were only 18,500 early humans breeding. That we have descended from a (presumably isolated) “colony” of 18,500 early humans is possible. While this colony of early humans may be the only one with direct descendents that led to the present-day population, it is far from likely that they were the only one at the time. Indicating they were the only early humans breeding on the entire planet is an exaggeration to say the least. That was my only point. Hence my parallel to the “Mitochondrial Eve” and the unlikelihood that she was the only breeding woman on the planet.

    In other words, and to more directly answer Mr. Ayón’s comments: this study can do nothing to estimate the number “of those dead-enders”, nor can one justifiably make statements that their numbers are “likely to be quite small, both absolutely and as a percentage” based on extrapolations from our present-day genome.

    I think it is even more dangerous to suggest that “the lost humans are not significant”. Just because they didn’t descend to us, doesn’t mean their role in the past is insignificant…”

  4. quest says:

    Hi folks , Just thought I would throw in my 2 bobs worth . On the subject of psychopathic sexuality . This is a subject that has had me puzzled for the longest time. Being male myself , my only intimate sexual relationship was with a female psychopath . Here are some of my obsevations . Initially when we got together the sex was out of this world , or at least I thought it was . Then when I moved in with her that incredible sex life basically evapourated within a month . At the time I was totally confused and could not figure out what had gone wrong . On many occasions when I tried to talk to her about it she either refused or changed the subject . After 6 months of living together I left as everything including the sex had become such a quagmire of confusion that it all seemed hopeless . It was only in the last week of our relationship that I realised she was a psychopath . Up till this point I did not even know what a psychopath was . Anyway back to the sex thing . After I moved out I started reading books on psychopathy , lots of them. Initially I assumed that she had just gotten bored with the sex . Boredom apparently being a problem for psychopaths . However on further reflection this did not really make sense as we had had great sex for about 12 months before I sold my house and moved in to hers . On one occasion when she had had a few beers she admitted to me that “First time sex was best“At the time I had not responded . When I asked her about it the next day she denied it . Incidently she very rarely drank much alcohol . I suspect that she knew, that after a few too many the truth was likely slip out . So what is it with sex and psychopaths . My conclusion is that for them sex is just another tool in their arsenal to reel in their prey . Do they enjoy the sex as a normal person would . I think not . They certainly do not feel any love or affection for the person they are having sex with . It took me quite a while to realise this . Once I moved in the show was over . So why are psychopaths so promiscuous . I believe its for a couple of reasons . I think initially in their younger years they are looking for that one person that they hope they can have a relationship with , that will give them the felling of love that they see between couples they see around them . They bounce from one relationship to another never finding satisfaction , sexually or otherwise . At some point I would assume that they realise that they are never going to find it . They realise that they are not quite human like most of the other people around them . This makes them angry and bitter . As time goes on they realise what a powerful weapon sex can be , used against these humans . They can put on quite the show . throw in some phoney affection , butter the person up and bingo you have yourself a victim to play with . Someone to emotionally destroy at your whim maybe even kill if you happen to get bored . I think psychopaths are defintely tormented , however they hide it very well . Blame transfer seems to be a technique that they use to unburden that torment on to others . Whatever they try to unload onto someone else , its because that is what they are . If you realise this you now have a weapon you can use against them . If they say something like , I would never do that ,,,,they have probably done it already , 50 times . If they accuse someone of being a homosexual its because they are wondering about their own orietation . Since they never get satisfaction they have probably tried both sexes at some time or another . I guess the thing that one has to really watch out for is the really smart ones . They know how to appear almost normal . In my mind these are the dangerous ones .

  5. slimone says:

    Quest,

    Your post really feels right-on to me. My experience to a tee. I also had an aha moment when I realized ‘what’ all the blame was. The projection of the spath experience.

    If one can stay objective and watch the subtleties of these projections, I think we can avoid getting entangled with a spath.

    The truth is they start spewing this stuff out pretty early on. Knowing that this is a characteristic that is nearly impossible for them to control is a good tool in our box, when evaluating new people. Learning to slow down our reactions to others’ criticisms, so we can more objectively evaluate our response to the criticism and it’s content, is a good tool for us to develop in ourselves.

    For example: the guy I knew told me on the first date I didn’t know how to connect when I was dancing with him. That I wasn’t ‘with him’ when we were dancing. Understanding his disorder I now see he was projecting his bitterness onto me, of his inability to feel connected, with yet ANOTHER woman; setting me up to be a vessel of his disowned shame and woundedness. (Of course, at the time, not knowing enough about me or anything about p/n’s I felt ashamed for being nervous and awkward on our first date). Had I known more I would have acknowledged that I felt scared of him when he said this, and fully shamed, and I would have been able to say no thank-you.

    My experience is that most of these folks in ‘love’, are looking for that one person who is finally going to ‘make’ them feel what they have never been able to. They place all their expectations for fulfillment outside of themselves, as they do not posess the ability to generate any internal source of contentment. Their tools are all about manipulating others, not knowing, accepting, and evolving themselves. And sex, as you point out, is just a tool.

    We can all probably relate to looking for Mr. or Mrs. Goodbar. We all look outside ourselves for completion, when we don’t understand it cannot be found there. And we may connect with the disordered individual out of a sense of understanding this kind of alientation. The difference, to me, is that these folks NEVER make the move to go inside. Never. There is no progress toward a knowing, and subsequent change of self.

    They are completely alienated from themselves. Much as we feel after they are through projecting all their shit, and discarding us. Then we get a taste of their utter emptiness.

  6. midlifecrisis says:

    Good point Slimone – I recall at the end crying ‘I don’t know who I am anymore!’ – that was his sickness that had caused me to lose myself in trying to please him – I wonder if it is like this all the time for him – he has no sense of self because there is just emptiness under the facade – it is still frightening for me to contemplate. I was terrified being in that space for a few yrs before he left. I was just existing as an abuse repository for him – to please him and fit in with his plans with no mind or wishes of my own.

    He did indeed expect me to fill him up in the initial stages and told me I was the best woman in the whole world – the only one for him that we were fated to be together. It was all lies designed to distract me from going after his pathology. I tried on so many occasions to talk about what was really going on – but you know the games they play to stop that process at any cost~!

  7. quest says:

    slimone,
    You seem to understand where I’m coming from , what I have a problem with is figuring out the mechanism within myself that seemed to just gobble all this shit up like it were candy . Of course puking it back out is not so easy although time seems to be a good healer . I would still like to understand the whole thing . I suppose what also surprised me was how easy it was for my PX to inflict on me what I can only describe as my soul being sucked in to a void of some kind of non reality . I suppose one of the consequences of being under the spell of a psychopath and coming out of it ,is observing character traits that are similar in other people who are not necessarily psychopaths and wondering , how does a normal person end up with any of the traits that are on the check list . None of these personality traits are particularly helpful to anyone as far as I can figure . Or are they all psychopaths or part psychopath or what . Is it relevant to say someone is part psychopath .

  8. mommom says:

    maybe in the natural scheme there is supposed to be abusers and abusees. Just as in prey and preditor

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